This Tender Land - August CC Book Club Discussion

Our August selection is This Tender Land by award-winning author William Kent Krueger. This New York Times bestseller tells the story of four Minnesota orphans who journey down the Mississippi River in 1932, encountering other lost souls who have found themselves adrift during the Great Depression. The book also touches upon an often overlooked piece of American history — the controversial Native American boarding schools that were a fixture in the United States for nearly 100 years. The narrator, Odie, who flees the Lincoln Indian Boarding School and heads down the river, is a natural storyteller reminiscent of Huck Finn.

“A picaresque tale of adventure during the Great Depression. Part Grapes of Wrath, part Huckleberry Finn, Krueger’s novel is a journey over inner and outer terrain toward wisdom and freedom.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Rich with graceful writing and endearing characters…this is a book for the ages.” —Denver Post

Discussion begins August 1st. Please join us!


I bought my book on e-bay!! Looking forward to reading it. Thanks @Mary13 for all that you do.

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I started This Tender Land. I’ll definitely be finished in time for the August 1 discussion.

Just pulling up this thread as a reminder for any interested in joining in.


How wonderful! A few months ago I read it for my book group and adored many things about the book.


I just picked the book up at the library. They held it on my request.


Half way through. Hard to put down!


I started and was a bit lukewarm but @Mary13 has never lead us astray, so I plowed through and read the entire book in one day and was very, very impressed. The writer is an amazing storyteller.
I would urge everyone to finish the book and can’t wait until August so we can discuss. Excellent choice, @Mary13, as always!


For folks who want a little more, there are some videos of the author discussing his book to see/hear for more insight. I listened to three (withdrawal after finishing the book).

I’m so glad I kept reading—definitely a worthwhile read!

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Thanks for the reminder. I put a Hold request in at my library. Exciting news - our library, formerly closed for Covid but closure extended due to floor cracks found during Covid-closed renovation, is now open. They will continue curbside pickup til Sept, and to be honest I will probably use that handy option.


Yay—was just allowed to reborrow my copy of the book so I may still have it on hand for our discussion in Aug.


Enjoying this selection, this link helped me visualize the view of Saint Paul from the river

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I’m about halfway through. I’m really enjoying this one.


Oh wow, I love William Kent Krueger. I’ve read all of his Cork O’Connor books; I read Ordinary Grace, which broke my heart; and I read This Tender Land. He is the latter day bard of the upper Midwest and when I read his books, I feel like I am there. Really looking forward to this discussion


I’ve finished This Tender Land and look forward to our discussion!

I’ve also, finally!!, finished The Luminaries, which many of you book club faithful tackled in February 2014. Thanks again to @ignatius , who pointed me toward your discussion! So many times during reading the book, I was tempted to peek at what y’all said, but I’ve saved it for today.

Good Lord, I hope I can figure out what I just dedicated more than a month of my life to. My head is spinning!


Last night I finished This Tender Land. I really enjoyed it! It was a quick read but had a lot of good stuff in it. I almost returned it to the library today then decided I may need to reference it during our August discussion.


There was so much in The Luminaries that I had no idea about until the discussion. It wasn’t necessarily one of my favorite books, but it was definitely one of my favorite discussions!


I understood that Anna and Emery were twinned astrologically, but I missed the sun/moon references (where the title came from). I think I gleaned about 3/4 of what was going on without understanding the star charts at all. I wasn’t ready for the element of magical realism … I think I’m one of those less-fanciful sorts who wants the world to operate according to logic and reason. (I still liked the book!-- or perhaps admired would be a better word.)


It’s August 1st! Welcome to our discussion of This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger.

I liked this book very much — it was a quick read and quite a yarn. The narrator’s disclaimer at the end nicely anticipates and quashes any attempt on the part of a skeptical reader (like me) to pick apart the story.

Some of what I’ve told you is true. The rest…well, let’s just call it bloom on the rosebush.

It’s a tall tale, and I enjoyed it as such. I should have guessed early on that “Odie” was short for “Odysseus"!

Discussion Questions:

  1. Although Odie and Albert find themselves in a boarding school for Native American children, most of the Native children don’t actually speak in the story. The Native character whom readers get to know best is Mose, and he is mute and “speaks” only through sign language. Why do you think the author chose silence as a way of depicting the children at the school?

  2. Trying to understand the nature of God is one of the many struggles for Odie during his experiences in the summer of 1932. Is Odie the only one struggling with this issue? What sense do you have concerning the way the other vagabonds feel about the nature of God? What about the people they meet on their travels? How does Odie’s relationship with God change over the course of his journey?

  3. When Odie and Albert attempt to buy boots, the clerk is skeptical that Albert and Odie would be able to afford the $5 price tag. After Odie lies about getting the money from their father, a second clerk remarks, “If he got a job these days, he’s one of the lucky ones.” This is Odie and Albert’s first experience of life outside of the Lincoln School. What sense of the current state of the world do you get from this encounter?

  4. When Odie is working for Jack in his orchard, Jack explain his religious philosophy, saying, “God all penned up under a roof? I don’t think so.” Where does Jack think God is really to be found? What is it in Odie’s experience that makes him disagree with Jack’s outlook?

  5. After having escaped Jack, the vagabonds encounter a Native American man named Forrest. He appears friendly and shares a meal with them, but he’s also aware that there is a $500 reward for their capture — a huge amount of money at the time. The children are unsure whether to trust him or not. What would you do in their situation?

  6. Tent revivals — places where Christians would gather to hear religious leaders speak — were common in the Great Depression, often traveling across the country from town to town. They offered hope to people in desperate times, as Sister Eve does to Odie, Albert, Emmy and Mose. However, Albert is skeptical of Sister Eve’s healings, calling her a con. What do you believe about Sister Eve’s ability to heal? What is the con that Albert is warning Odie about?

  7. Why does Odie trust Sister Eve so wholeheartedly, but not her partner, Sid? Do you think he’s right to draw the conclusions he does about Sid from their interactions? How do some of Odie’s misjudgments lead to disastrous consequences? In your opinion, is what happens to Albert in some way Odie’s fault?

  8. When the vagabonds encounter the skeleton of a Native American boy, Albert says there’s nothing they can do, but Mose reacts very differently. Later, he wanders off from the group to learn about the Dakota Conflict of 1862, which resulted in the execution of 38 Sioux and the deaths of hundreds more. How does knowledge of this history change how Mose perceives himself? What impact does hearing this story have on Odie? On you?

  9. Hoovervilles (named for President Herbert Hoover) were shantytowns that sprang up all across America during the Great Depression for homeless individuals and families. In difficult times like this, how do people like the Schofields survive? Is there an expectation that the government will help them, or do they look to other sources for assistance? How do the residents of this particular Hooverville pull together? How are they driven apart?

  10. The Flats is like no other place the vagabonds have been on their journey. What makes it so unusual? When John Kelly is stopped by a policeman, why does he feel he has to say he is from a different part of town? Despite making a new friend, why is Odie so unhappy during the time he spends there?

  11. When Odie is on his own, riding the rails, trying to get to St. Louis, he comes face to face with danger and violence. Do you think he was foolish for striking out alone? How was this encounter different from the things he experienced at Lincoln School?

  12. Odie is a born storyteller even at his young age. Throughout the book he tells Albert, Emmy and Mose tales about an imp, a princess and the vagabonds. What purpose do these stories serve in the novel?

  13. Sister Eve says to Odie that the only prayer she knows will absolutely be answered is a prayer for forgiveness. What do you think she means by this? Who are the people whom Odie needs to forgive, and for what reasons?

  14. Odie, Albert, Mose and Emmy are all searching for peace and a place to call home. What do you think each character is looking for and what are their different definitions of home? In the end, do they all find what they are looking for? If so, how?

  15. The author has said that he drew inspiration from the works of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Homer. Do you find elements of works by those authors in This Tender Land? Why or why not? Are there other authors whose work this story calls to mind?

  16. In the story, Odie speaks of the journey he and the other are on as an odyssey. Do you see echoes of Homer’s epic poem in the children’s experiences? If so, can you identify Homer’s poetic counterpart for each section of the story?

  1. Although Odie and Albert find themselves in a boarding school for Native American children, most of the Native children don’t actually speak in the story. The Native character whom readers get to know best is Mose, and he is mute and “speaks” only through sign language. Why do you think the author chose silence as a way of depicting the children at the school?

I think it’s the author’s way of expressing that these children have no voice. They have been muzzled, identities and family histories stolen. The end goal of the Indian Boarding School "was to eradicate all vestiges of Indian culture”:


Thanks for that link. While details of this book ( are fading already, read it weeks ago ) your info in that link will be what I remember the most about this book.

As a tie in to the Olympics, I remembered that Jim Thorpe was from central Pennsylvania ( I was unaware of the Carlisle Indian school there, mostly I know Carlisle from Dickinson College.)

He spent his childhood at the Indian School.

What a similar life to This Tender Land, Hopping trains to get back home and it went the wrong way, he was 13,
“ The Carlisle Indian School

In 1904, a representative from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania came to the Oklahoma Territory looking for candidates for the trade school. (Carlisle had been founded by an army officer in 1879 as a vocational boarding school for young Native Americans.) Thorpe’s father convinced Jim to enroll at Carlisle, knowing there were few opportunities available for him in Oklahoma.

Thorpe entered the Carlisle School in June 1904 at age 16. He had hoped to become an electrician, but because Carlisle didn’t offer that course of study, Thorpe opted to become a tailor. Not long after he’d begun his studies, Thorpe received staggering news. His father had died of blood poisoning, the same illness that had taken his mother’s life.

Thorpe coped with his loss by immersing himself in the Carlisle tradition known as “outing,” in which students were sent to live with (and work for) white families in order to learn white customs. Thorpe went on three such ventures, spending several months at a time working in roles such as a gardener and farm worker.”